Once in a great while there comes a novel of such emotional impact and acute insight that it forever changes the way a reader sees a nation or an era. Writing with an unerring sense of suspense and of history experienced firsthand, James Webb takes us on a myth-shattering cultural odyssey deep into the heart of contemporary Vietnam, with a riveting thriller that tells a love story — love for those who perished, for family and friends, and between a soldier and the land where he had always been ready to die.
Brandon Condley survived five years of combat as a U.S. Marine only to lose the woman he loved to an enemy assassin. Now he is back in Vietnam, working to recover the remains of unknown American soldiers. On a routine mission, Condley finds a body that doesn’t match its dog tags — a body that propels him into a vortex of violence and intrigue where past and present become one.
As the mystery of the dead man unravels, a link is revealed to two well-known killers: “Salt and Pepper,” a pair of treasonous Americans who led a deadly Viet Cong ambush against Condley’s own men. Galvanized by a fresh trail to these long-lost deserters, Condley has finally found a purpose: Under the auspices of his government job, he is going to hunt down the traitors. On his own, he is going to kill them.
Condley’s hunt cannot be kept secret from his former enemies, or his friends. And in the shadows that linger from Vietnam’s long season of darkness and terror, he has no way of knowing which side is more dangerous.
Surrounding him is an unforgettable cast of characters: Dzung, Condley’s closest friend, a South Vietnamese war hero who might have led his country if his side had won the war, now reduced to driving a cyclo as his family starves in Saigon’s District Four. Colonel Pham, a battle-hardened Viet Cong soldier who lost three children to American bombs. Manh, a cutthroat Interior Ministry official who blackmails Dzung into a mission of murder. The Russian soldier Anatolie Petrushinsky, who left his soul in Vietnam as his empire collapsed around him. And the beautiful Van, Colonel Pham’s daughter, who spurns the scars of war as she pursues her dreams of freedom.
As Condley stalks his elusive prey across old battlefields and throughout Eurasia, returning always to the brooding streets of Saigon, his mission — and the odds of his surviving it — grow more precarious with each step he takes toward the truth.
Lost Soldiers captures the Vietnam of past and present — its beauty and squalor, its politics and people. Propelled by a page-turning mystery, shot through with adventure and intrigue, it irrevocably transforms our view of that haunted land and brings us as complete an understanding as we will ever have of what happened after the war — and why. No writer today is more qualified to take us into that world than James Webb.
Webb's cultural and political portrayal of Vietnam 25 years after the war's end is delivered with such bold strokes and magical detail that it really doesn't matter that the plot itself is relegated to the backseat. This is a highly personal and empathetic look at today's Vietnam, a land of misery and inequity, yet one still vibrantly alive. The story follows the experiences of Brandon Condley, an ex-Marine whose job it is to find missing American soldiers, dead or alive. Condley is trying to track down Theodore Deville, an army grunt who not only deserted his unit in 1969 and killed a fellow serviceman, but then joined the ranks of the enemy. Condley is convinced Deville is still alive, operating somewhere in southeast Asia's underground economy. Webb introduces a rich cast of supporting characters as Condley pursues his quarry across Vietnam, Australia, the former Soviet Union and Thailand. Among the most delicately etched is Dzung, a former South Vietnamese officer now relegated, like thousands of others on the losing side, to a menial station in life, one that he and his family have no hope of escaping. Such characters, as well as the highly textured mood and atmosphere that Webb creates, tend to further eclipse the main narrative and shift the focus to the moral consequences and social fallout of the war. This detailed, lovingly drawn portrait of Vietnam reveals a sad, tortured country that has never recovered from the horrifying events of a quarter-century ago. Major print and radio advertising.
The incident where the Lt is leading his company through the draw to relieve another Marine company that had been surrounded for three days is true. That a “Salt” & “Pepper” team operated in the Que Son Mountains is also true. June 24, 1969 found me as the Company Commander of the surrounded company (Kilo 3/5) and i saw the “Pepper” of the team. Reading about the ambush brought chills down my spine. Semper fi.
The author has written unfailingly good books. This story, however, is not one of them. This book is an overly long boring journey of a former Marine of the VN War. Absolutely nothing special, except maybe all the Vietnamese words - with their English translations - that you'd never want to know. Semper Fi......
Great book from start to finish. Could not put the book down.